Tarah Singh grew up in Hendersonville, attended private school and had a supportive family of artists and entertainers with a lineage of achievement. Her mother’s stepfather was Ronald Isley, the founding lead vocalist of the Isley Brothers.
“I was around all kinds of creative people that were very successful,” Singh said. “A lot of people joke around with me about the starving artist thing, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I never saw that.’”
So it might be easy to view the art Singh makes—largely painted self-portraits, embellished with abstraction and symbolism—and miss some of her deeper intent. She refers to the faces in her artwork as masks.
“I think I’ve expanded on my process of masks and my alter egos and my way of dealing with the public that’s become much more of a conversation in my work,” she said. “I recognize that in myself, that as an introvert, these are ways I deal with the world around me.”
An exhibition of Tarah Singh’s paintings is up through Aug. 6 at Pink Dog Gallery in the River Arts District, and she’s showing mixed media and sculptural work in a show opening Sept. 4 at Art Garden Asheville.
Singh is prone to laugh when she looks back on the trail that brought her to this point. She set aside dreams of becoming an architect when she married young and had two daughters, now both in their 20s. Singh ran a cafe for year, worked as a lighting designer and, later, as a cosmetologist at her own salon.
“I get bored real easily. I do get bored and I love new challenges,” Singh said. “That’s what makes me excited. It’s bringing things into being. Like, what else can we do?”
Though she has made art throughout her life, Singh said her career as an artist didn’t begin until she came under the mentorship of the late, esteemed painter and sculptor Vadim Bora.
“Vadim spent just as much time talking to me and training my thought process and helping me see things through a new lens,” she said. “One day he looked at one of my paintings and said ‘I see myself reflected in your work.’ I was going through a really painful part of my life because I had these two kids and was getting divorced and didn’t know what to do. That was probably a pivotal moment for me.”
Singh regards her early artwork as journal entries commemorating varied happiness and sadness. She encrusted her paintings with dried flowers, mirrors, feathers, gold leaf and other artifacts from specific events. At a financial low point, while still working as a hairdresser, Singh committed to throwing her own art show, in the atrium of her Hendersonville home.
“It had all these glass walls, so it was like this cool spot, kinda modern, and I sold three paintings,” she recalled. “And I was ‘heck, that was easy.’”
She later painted mushrooms, dragonflies, numbers and other symbols into the margins of her work to convey deeper, hidden meanings. Bees and hives grace some of her pieces. Four years ago, inspired from a trip to Italy, Singh tended a functional beehive on her property solely to influence her artmaking.
Singh moved to Asheville two years ago and that has coincided with her move beyond the masks of self-portrait. She said she hopes her more recent work is more relatable to a broader audience. Singh extends that audience to the youth she occasionally mentors through the LEAF teaching artist program and Asheville Writers in the Schools.
“I like the fact people think the work is beautiful, but for me, it’s about ‘Did people understand what it was saying?’” she said. “I do hope that my work continues to be something that empowers women. That is my main audience.”